Naturals Salon, a chain of affordable beauty salons, is helping hundreds of Indian women find a new career. The company which has over 300 franchisee outlets in India has a marked preference for women partners, said CK Kumaravel, co-founder of Naturals.
"Women are good at working within a framework," Kumaravel told YourStory. "Not only for Naturals, for any franchise business, women are more suited because they work on a system, they are not very greedy, they are very detail-oriented." Sure enough, 190 of the 220 Naturals franchises are run by women.
Kumaravel prefers to tie up with what he called "gracious partners." or those that fulfill six of his criteria -- absolute integrity, willingness to be owner-managers, ability to lead a team, good customer management skills, the ability to invest money and finally, no knowledge of the beauty industry. Yes, you read that right.
The inspiration for this women-led enterprise came from Kumaravel’s own mother.
My mom was a big inspiration for me. My father died early and we were four sons and two daughters, and she played multiple roles to bring us up, he said.
“So I always used to think that women are as capable or more capable than men. All they need is a bit of a framework and a little bit of push in the beginning.”
Kumaravel and his wife Veena set up Naturals in 2000, a venture that has led to over 300 franchise outlets in 16 states. Veena was looking for a meaningful pursuit after her children began attending school leaving her with more time.
The trigger was a discovery that good beauty salons at the time were only found in luxury hotels, which were intimidating and expensive for an average beauty customer, while the local beauty salons and barber shops had poor quality standards. Most middle class women would have agreed.
"Irritation is the biggest source of energy. If you are irritated with something look them over very carefully, there lies an opportunity," Mr Kumaravel said.
"We felt there is a need for an affordable, good quality beauty salon. That was the idea we got," he added. Their combined expertise in this case was negligible, as Veena had neither qualifications nor experience to enter the field, but that didn't deter this enterprising couple. What they had was a burning desire to make it happen.
They filled the gap by hiring the head of Taj's beauty salons to hire a team and help them set up operations. But the going was by no means easy. The first year, the company did business of Rs 2 million and made a loss of Rs 1 million. Gradually, the turnover increased and loss narrowed and by the fourth year, Natural was turning in a profit and the number of salons inched up.
It was now time to scale up, which meant, more money. That meant more challenges. Bankers didn't have a very optimistic view of the beauty business and were reluctant to lend money for such an enterprise.
"It was also a taboo industry," said Kumaravel. "But we persisted. We met 51, 52 bankers, finally the 54th banker said I will give you the money, because he liked the (idea of) husband-wife doing business together."
Good execution and marketing are the two mantras that Naturals goes by.
Whenever some extra money is there, I will go and invest (in marketing). All those things helped at a later point of time. It made the brand larger-than-life and that made people join us in Phase 2, he said.
Yourstory met some remarkable women who turned entrepreneurs by joining Naturals.
“I love the fact that it is a Unisex Salon, today i can get inputs from my husband also while i run the business,” said Susmita, a franchise owner. While Manisha, another Bangalore based francise owner remarked, “with Naturals you don’t feel like you are running a business, you grow as a person, you constantly evolve as a human being.”
Kumaravel derives deep satisfaction and meaning from what he is doing because of the meaning he sees being created in the lives of so many women around him. “We are a by-proudct of the revolution created by Narayan Murthy, Azim Premji and so many such entrepreneurs.”
"Beauty is not the prerogative of the rich and famous. Beauty should be reached out to the last person," he adds. And, we couldn’t agree more.
Watch Mr Kumaravel recount the beautiful story of Naturals’ journey and get ready to be inspired: